Today, 1 September 2021, marks a significant occasion in the history of Australia’s federal court system with the commencement of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, as the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Act 2021 (FCFCOA Act) takes effect.
The court comprises two divisions; Division 1 (a continuation of the Family Court of Australia) and deals only with family law matters, and Division 2 (a continuation of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia) deals with family law, migration and other general federal law matters.
People are encouraged to visit the court’s new website fcfcoa.gov.au for more information. Published on the website are three informative videos. Video 1 You Can Separate Smarter should be viewed by those who are considering engaging in, or are involved in, family law proceedings in the court. Video 2 is a helpful guide for litigants as it explains what to expect when they come to court, and video 3 outlines the changes to the court. The videos are available from the court’s home page.
In regard to the court’s family law jurisdiction, for the first time in 21 years there is a single point of entry, one set of court rules and forms, and a new purpose-built court website. Importantly, there is a new and consistent approach to case management nationally, where the court’s highly skilled Judicial Registrars will triage every case, and assess for risk, soon after they have been filed in the Court.
The court has learnt a great deal during the pandemic, and as a result, has implemented many innovations, including electronic hearings. These innovations will continue to be used as COVID-related restrictions are eased, to ensure improved safety and access to justice for vulnerable parties and people living in regional areas.
If it is safe to do so, parties will be encouraged to engage with dispute resolution opportunities before, and throughout, the court process. For the cases that are not suitable to resolve by dispute resolution and need to proceed to a trial before a Judge, the court will provide a safe, fair and modern system of justice.
The court’s aim over time is to resolve more than 90% of family law matters within 12 months to reduce the time, cost and stress associated with litigation.
These reforms reflect the numerous calls for change that have been voiced by the legal profession, and others in the wider community, over many years. The reforms have been assisted by 2021-22 Commonwealth Government funding of more than $100 million of additional resources (over the four years to 2024-25) to help implement much-needed support for judges and to allow the court to put in place reforms that aim to reduce delays and improve safety outcomes for litigants involved in family law disputes.
In the general federal law and migration jurisdictions of Division 2, the court will continue to ensure that justice is delivered effectively and efficiently through the enhanced use of technology and centralised case management processes.
Statement from the Chief Justice of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, William Alstergren
It is a modern court responsive to the needs of litigants. It’s aimed at identifying risk in family law proceedings early, to ensure the safety of vulnerable parties and children, and providing opportunities for all litigants for early dispute resolution. If cases have to go through our court system to trial, it aims at doing so as fairly, efficiently, safely and as cost effectively as possible. This includes going to mediation within five months, where ever possible, and starting a trial, if there has to be one, within 12 months.
On our website there is important information about the new processes, the new procedures and what to expect from our court. There are also informative videos including, asking, in family law proceedings, whether parties can Separate Smarter? What to expect from our new court system, and an informative video about the new amalgamation about the courts. Please look at those before you issue your proceedings. Thank you.
Statement from Senator Michaelia Cash, Attorney-General of Australia
As Australia’s Attorney-General, and on behalf of the Morrison Government, I welcome the commencement of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. I congratulate Chief Justice Alstergren for the work he has done and the vision he is implementing of a modern, innovative court, leading change, with a focus on ensuring justice is delivered in a safe, timely and effective way.
I am pleased that the court is embracing innovation and technology. In this regard, the court’s new website is an important source of information, to help court users easily navigate these important changes. With a focus on innovation, and fair and efficient processes that centre on risk, responsiveness and resolution, the new court will, for the first time in 21 years, allow Australian families the opportunity to resolve their disputes faster, through simplified procedures.
The operations of the court are importantly underpinned by guiding philosophies including; being a modern innovative court leading change, using dispute resolution to reduce costs, delay and emotional stress. Placing an emphasis on the response to family violence and risk to children, and ensuring the courts have the expertise and resources to deliver initiatives.
With a new structure, bringing together the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court, separating families will have the benefit of having a single set of rules, procedures, and approach to case management. More cases will be finalised each year, making a real difference to everyday Australians at a difficult time in their lives.
Again, I thank Chief Justice Alstergren, the judges of the family courts, and all of the court staff for their incredible work in preparing for the commencement of the new structure. Congratulations.
Statement from the President of the Law Council of Australia, Dr Jacoba Brasch QC
Hello, my name is Jacoba Brasch and I am the President of the Law Council of Australia. I am also a family lawyer.
Can I invite you to look at the three videos that have been produced by the court. They’re to the point, it won’t take too much of your time, and hopefully you will get some useful information out of them.
But perhaps more importantly, can I urge you to show your clients the video about separating smarter. It will resonate with you, it’s things we hear a lot as family lawyers. But it’s a useful resource to show clients that it’s not actually a good idea to ask children to be messengers, or to ask them where they want to live. It’s a powerful video and I hope it helps you to help parties, to separate smarter.